He knew it would happen soon; he could feel it. The air was thick; expectant. There was a familiar kind of pressure in the air, a pressure that he could feel even through his armour-like scales. Kreyn stretched his claws in anticipation, casually carving grooves into the stone beneath his feet.
Overhead the sky was a shifting sea of grey. Soon.
The young Guardian dragon turned his eyes to the towering monoliths surrounding him, and the massive structures built on top of them. He tried to pick which spire would be the one to catch the lightning. Which one? It would be--
The lightning struck the spire closest to him, and the entire world went white. Kreyn closed his eyes, but even so the after image still lingered. He could still see the spire wreathed in impossibly white light, burning so bright it hurt. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Although he didn't know it, a smile was plastered on his face.
When sound returned he heard the rattle and hiss of machinery as it harnessed lightning, one of the most powerful forces in the world, and tamed it for his underground Flight.
Slowly he blinked, trying to clear the white spots in his eyes. His mother disapproved of him watching the storm like this. She said it would make him easy prey, but that was nonsense. This was lightning territory. He /owned/ this land, and no other creatures would be stupid enough to encroach onto his territory. Especially not in a storm.
"You still Storm Watch, Boy?" An unfamiliar voice caused him to spin around, blinking rapidly as he tried to focus on the owner of the voice. His vision danced rapidly, making it impossible for him to see properly.
A barking laugh caused him to bare his teeth, until a second voice spoke up. "Relax Kreyn, it's us"
He recognised that voice. It belonged to his Fae friend, Lirr. They had become friends when they were both still hatchlings, although she had left her nest almost 6 months ago. He relaxed slightly. "Who's with you?"
"It's Hish, my father. He asked me to find you." There was an edge to Lirr's voice that Kreyn hadn't heard before. Fear maybe? Although why would Lirr be afraid of her father? Fear for him then.
Kreyn tried to think about what such a high ranking Employee would want with him, but he couldn't come up with anything. When he wasn't working, which was seldom, Hish usually kept to himself. Even though he had been friends with Lirr for years, he had seen her father only a handful of times. He didn't even know what duties Hish undertook in the Flight.
The white spots were fading slowly, and Kreyn was now able to see the two Fae. The larger of the two (although 'large' was always relative with the Fae) was coloured a reddish purple with black wings. Wrapped around Hish's front paws were a set of fresh white bandages, although spots of blood were beginning to seep through. Standing a little way behind him, frowning slightly, was Lirr. As usual her pale blue form was covered in an assortment of shiny collars, wires, gears and other assorted gadgets that she had turned into jewellery.
The silence stretched on. Kreyn realised that he was being rude, but before he could think up something appropriate to say Hish spoke up. "Why do you do this Boy?"
"Huh? Do what?"
Hish gestured to their surroundings. "Storm Watch. Some hatchies get a taste for it, most grow outta it long afore they leave their nests. But I've been watching you; always sneaking off whenever there's a big storm comin'. It's an obsession with you boy, and I wanna know why."
That hadn't been close to any of the questions he'd expected. "Oh...I... ah... I just like watching it. Lightning is so wild, so powerful, and yet we can take that and tame it and make it useful. We survive here, because of the lightning."
"So you like watching something powerful being bent to your will, do you boy?" Hish's laugh made Kreyn feel uneasy.
He pulled his wings in tighter to his body. "That's not what I--"
"Good, good. Come along." With that Hish turned and headed towards an ornate archway carved into the side of the cliff. The archway was one of many entrances to their Flights underground lair.
Kreyn hesitated before following the Fae, and Lirr took the opportunity to fly over to him.
"Lirr, what's going on? What does your dad want with me?" Slowly they followed Hish, letting the distance between them lengthen so they could talk without being overheard.
Lirr took a deep breath. "Did you know Tarrin?" Kreyn shook his head. "He was the Guardian dragon who died about a month ago. I only met him once or twice, but he worked with my father. What they were working on I don't know, but I do know that Tarrin died because of it"
Kreyn was still shaking his head. "Dragons die underground all the time Lirr. Things go wrong, accidents happen. It's sad, but you can't blame your father for that."
She flared her crests angrily. "It's not just him. Ska, Im, Chi, those two other Fae, Dave. All in the past eight months. That's too many deaths. Whatever they're doing, it's too dangerous for you. Kreyn, listen to me: Don't take the job."
"Job? What job?" Startled, Kreyn stopped walking.
Lirr rolled her eyes and kept flying. She knew Kreyn could catch up. "You're the only Guardian Hatchling who's ready to leave the nest. What job do you think?"
"Oh. Yeah. That." He batted a stone with his paw.
Sensing his mood, Lirr turned and landed on his back. "Hey! not every Guardian finds their worthy treasure straight away. You don't have to take the first job that's offered to you. Travel around, see the world, get a bit of experience before you make a decision that will affect the rest of your life. Just promise me you won't take this job."
"Yeah, I know that. It's just..." He sighed, "I don't know what other jobs I can get here. I don't want to leave home, you know? Everyone that I know is here; my family, my friends. Not to mention; Lightning is the best Flight. I don't want to live above the ground, open to the elements like those other dragons. I don't want to leave my home with only a small chance that I'll ever come back and see anyone I know ever again. I don't want to be alone, for months and months and months as I try and find something 'worthy'. Ugh, just one Flight is bad enough; I don't want to have to put up with mountains of other dragons trying to tell me that yes, while their hoard is small right now they have a sure fire plan to triple their wealth in three years. Guaranteed! All I have to do is be willing to spend the rest of my life watching over their stupid treasure, or their stupid son, or their stupid whatever." He growled in frustration.
As Kreyn's growl echoed throughout the corridors Hish, who had been flying ahead, turned back to face them. "Everything alright Boy?" He asked.
Kreyn looked away and mumbled an affirmative, although Hish didn't seem convinced by his reply. For far too long he gave an appraising stare over both Kreyn and Lirr, before saying finally "Lirr, find your mother and tell her to check the Southern Ventilation Wells, if she hasn't already."
Lirr nodded, and with a quick murmur to Kreyn to "Just say no" she launched herself off his back and flitted down a side shaft and was gone.
Kreyn sighed. Now there was just the two of them, although Hish still hadn't told Kreyn what he wanted. They moved down corridor after corridor, heading deeper underground. They passed relatively few dragons, most of whom ignored the duo although Hish received some nods of recognition.
Water dripped down the cavern walls; obviously they were still sorting out the heating. Kreyn thought they were headed into one of the newer sections, although as he lived in the upper levels he wasn't familiar with the lower tunnels.
There still hadn't been any explanation as to what they were doing, where they were going, and the silence was starting to make him edgy.
"How much further?"
"Not far." Kreyn couldn't think up anything else to make the Fae keep talking, so once more he lapsed into silence.
They had only continued on short while before Hish broke the silence. "What are ya gonna Guard Boy, once ya leave ya nest?"
"I'm not sure yet. It's a big decision, and I don't want to rush into anything, you know?" Kreyn looked down. 'Here it comes.'
"Good, good. A smart decision Boy. I knew ya were smart, moment I set eyes on ya. Forward thinking, e'en." He chuckled. "Anyway, this is it. We're here."
'Here' was a plain looking door blocking the tunnel. It appeared fairly solid, although he wouldn't expect anything less of Lightning craftsmanship, but there didn't appear to be any form of handle or mechanism with which to open it.
"I'm sorry, but doors just don't do it for me. Thanks anyway though."
Hish narrowed his eyes. "It's not the door I want you to guard Boy. It's what's behind the door." With that he rapped sharply on the bare metal.
Nothing happened for a moment or two, until glowing pink lines etched themselves onto the door. They seemed to form some sort of symbol, but before he could make out what it was the door folded into the walls.
"That's new." Kreyn was surprised, although not overly so. Lightning dragons were the most innovative dragons after all; they were always working on improving their existing inventions. Although he couldn't discern the mechanism that they had used on the door.
Behind the door was a large, roughly square room, with one tunnel leading further away. The walls and floor were much smoother than the tunnel they had previously walked through. There were two dragons within the room; another Fae and a Tundra Dragon. They were clustered around a cloth covered mound in the center of the room.
The Fae nodded at Hish before flying out of the room and down the tunnel.
"Ah, so this is the young Guardian." The Tundra turned to face them, and Kreyn was struck by his eyes. In a Flight where almost everyone belonged to The Stormcatcher, it was rare to see eyes that were any colour other than cyan. The Tundra's eyes were pink.
'An Arcane dragon? Here? But this is Lightning territory, why would we be working with an Arcane?'
The Tundra had continued to speak, although Kreyn had stopped listening in shock. He hurriedly tuned back in.
"It was such a shame that we had to lose Tarrin in such a way, but he was old and slow. I have high hopes for you, young one. At the very least you should be faster on your feet, ha ha."
"I.. I.. I still don't understand. What do you want me to guard."
"This." The Tundra motioned to the covered mound. He rested on his hind legs and grab the cloth in his front paws. "Remember to keep an open mind. I know we haven't told you much, but believe me when I say it's for the good of the Flight."
In trepidation, Kreyn drew his eyes towards the mound. He was beginning to have a very bad feeling about this job. He should never have agreed to come down this far, he should have refused the job on the surface. But it was too late now.
The Tundra drew off the cloth.
For long moments Kreyn didn't understand what he was seeing. There was a tangled mess of wires and hissing pipes, hiding the true form beneath it.
Slowly, and with a mounting sense of horror, Kreyn realised what it was. What they were trying to do.
"Oh gods no." He tried to back away, but at some point the door had closed behind him. He was trapped in the same room as, as... that. His horrified mind shied away from the scene in front of him, and instead he focused on the Tundra.
"Wha... H..wh..." Kreyn couldn't form the words, and he didn't know what he would say if he could.
"Oh come now Boy, it's not that bad." It was Hish who spoke first, "I thought ya were progressive. Did I misjudge ya?"
Kreyn swung his head from side to side, although not in answer to Hish's question. "Let me out. I don't want to be here. I want to go home."
"Surely you'll reconsider, Guardian. We really need someone like you on our project."
"I want no part in this... this... this.... let me out!"
Hish sighed. "I really thought better of you Boy. A forced Guardian isn't as useful as one who joins under their own free will, but you leave me with no choice."
"What are you talking about!" Kreyn was truly panicking now. He tried to look as threatening as he knew how, although his wavering voice let him down. "Let me out now!"
"I'm sorry Boy"
The Arcane dragon's eyes began to glow pink, and slowly that glow spread to the rest of his body.
Kreyn's body felt like syrup, and it became hard to move his legs. He stumbled to his knees. "What... what's happening--"
He could no longer hold his body upright, falling to the floor.
His head came to rest near the monstrosity. In his hazy mind he could feel it watching him. Pitying him.
"I really am sorry"
And then he knew no more.